Phil Crehan and Jennifer McCleary-Sills
“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them against abuses such as violence and discriminatory laws and practices constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society – contributing to increased vulnerability to ill health including HIV infection, social and economic exclusion, putting strain on families and communities, and impacting negatively on economic growth, decent work and progress towards achievement of the future Sustainable Development Goals.”
This unprecedented joint statement, released earlier last week by 12 United Nations agencies, is a powerful call to action that also alludes to the violent reality for millions of LGBTI people around the globe – violence they experience simply for not conforming to traditional norms around gender and sexuality. As has been echoed in various writings, “hegemonic masculinity”, i.e. the dominant social position of heterosexual men, fuels strict gender norms and expectations surrounding sexuality. For lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender women (LBT), this creates a specific vulnerability to violence driven by sexism as well as homophobia and transphobia.
Over the course of their lives, LBT women are at high risk for multiple forms of interpersonal violence committed against them by family members, classmates, intimate partners, neighbors, and strangers. From an early age, children who portray non-normative sexualities or expressions of gender are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse by a family member compared to their heterosexual siblings. For school-aged children, violence against LBT girls can run rampant due to abuse from teachers and peers – including homophobic verbal harassment, sexual and physical violence at school, and cyber-bullying. For adolescent and adult women, so-called “corrective rape” is a particularly repugnant practice that seeks to “cure” a lesbian or bisexual woman of her attraction to women by forcing her to have sex with a man or many men.
In recent years, there has been increasing evidence that LGBTI people are denied equal access to essential resources, services, and opportunities. These include: health care; education; housing; employment; and legal redress. Beyond being a violation of their fundamental rights, this deprivation has significant impacts on development outcomes at the individual, community, and national levels. In many countries, this exclusion stems from discriminatory laws, social stigma, or a combination of both. The denial of such access can perpetuate a cycle by which LBT women stay poor, marginalized, and vulnerable to further violence.
Despite this evidence, the bulk of discourse and action surrounding gender equality and women’s empowerment in the development community has assumed a normative notion of “woman” as heterosexual and cisgender. This means that LBT women are generally excluded from the critical dialogue that informs development programs and investments and the benefits that are derived from them, including actions aimed at reducing violence against women and girls. A gender equality agenda within the larger global goals of advancing economic development, eliminating extreme poverty, and boosting shared prosperity must address the root causes of inequalities as well as their consequences for women of all gender and sexual identities.
In recognition of the significant gap in attention paid to the needs of LBT women in development policy and practice, we wrote a brief for the Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Resource Guide, which provides guidance to help development professionals initiate, integrate and innovate effective solutions to prevent and respond to VAWG across all sectors. Our brief, launched last week, specifically examines violence against LBT women as an impediment to development with serious consequences for individual women, as well as their families, communities, and societies. It underscores that integrating prevention of and response to violence against LBT women into development projects requires an understanding of the legal, social, and epidemiological context of this violence as it relates to development programming.
Violence is a multi-faceted core development issue, which requires a multi-faceted and multi-sectoral approach. Development projects across a wide range of sectors need to take into account the increased risks of violence and the limited access to resources and programming that many LBT women face. This reality has implications for decisions and actions that must be taken at the policy, institutional, and community levels.
Based on successful practices around the world, the brief provides recommendations for appropriate action at various level of society by presenting promising practices and entry points at the institutional, community, and policy levels. As development institutions and non-governmental organizations become more inclusive of LGBTI people and offer more nuanced and targeted programs for oft excluded groups, we encourage you to use this brief as a resource to guide efforts to combat violence against women and girls and to promote more inclusive development programming.
Download the brief on violence against LBT women. For the entire series on Violence against Women and Girls, visit the VAWG Resource Guide website. This series is a joint venture between the World Bank Group, the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Center for Research on Women. Follow the Resource Guide at #VAWGuide.
Blog originally published on ICRW’s Gender Lens, on October 1, 2015